CAMBRIDGE BAND COMPETITION IS it really that time already? Staff at The Junction have spent the last couple of weeks listening to "an unusually high number of entries" for the Cambridge Band Competition and have announced the 16 acts that will contest this year's title. As has been the tradition for many years - there will be four heats - each featuring four bands and a final that will decide the overall winner. It's likely to be quite a tense affair. Band competitions succeed in taking the emotional, personal experience of music and turning it into something resembling a sport. Bands are cheered onto the stage like footballers and cheered off again, neither of which makes them any better or worse at what they do. And as the final feedback of their guitars fades into the venue's walls the band members then face the criticisms of the judges - they are all braver than I. To have years of work distilled into a number out of ten must be extraordinarily disheartening if the night doesn't go your way. That's not to say I think the quality of music is purely subjective - that's not the case at all. Whilst beauty is in the eye of the beholder - some beholders really should know better. I think most bands realise all of this is the price they have to pay to be part of something that will allow them to play a gig at a wonderful venue and gain exposure. If it's all taken in the right spirit there needn't be any losers, even if there's only one winner at the end of it all. My favourite memory of the competition was several years ago when The Dawn Parade (now more anonymously named The Visions) played in their heat. They seemed as competent and as passionate as any band that had ever graced the stage - they won over casual onlookers and won even greater adoration from their own fans. When they finished the compare staggered back on stage and declared: 'Wow, that was like a real gig.' Too right, I wonder if the judges had ever been to one of those - I think they came third in their heat. Two columnists in America's Rolling Stone magazine later declared them the UK's best band - so it seems their greatness wasn't just a vision of the crowd's imaginations. So, their incredible musical success that night and their failure in the competition stands as the type of contradiction that makes these events what they are. I've spoken to two qualifiers of this year's event already. Plus Guest are led by St Ives guitarist, singer and songwriter Gavin Bates and The Vices are Huntingdon's As The Light Fades - renamed and with a new musical direction. The four heats run on every Wednesday in March with the final on Wednesday 29 March. Tickets for the heats are on sale next now and are \u00A35 each, but you can pay \u00A315 for a season ticket to see all the heats and the final. This year The Junction are running a special offer where they will guarantee you a free ticket to the final if you buy a ticket to one of the heats and join their mailing list. Sounds very fair to me. Heat 1: March 1, Me Against the World: Kreuzdammer: Symbo: The Vices. Heat 2: March 8, Zebra Room, The Mr. Rons, The Alex Harris Band, Jet Set Willy. Heat 3: March 15, Plus Guest: Mr Zed: Colonel Bastard: The Beards. Heat 4: March 22, Solvent, The Stray Embers, After Effect, Cosy Cosy.